Delaware: Positioned to Lead in Early Learning
The title of the annual Vision 2015 conference, “Education in The First State: Positioned to Lead,” aptly describes Delaware’s station nationally in the area of early learning.
As we come together annually to reflect on the state’s progress, we should all have a sense of optimism. When the Vision 2015 plan was first released, state leadership was in transition and funding had not been identified to support these recommendations (of which the early learning recommendations alone were estimated to cost $70M). Today, we have stellar state leaders including Governor Jack Markell who heard from former-Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell that Delaware Office of Early Learning Director Harriet Dichter is “the closest thing to Superwoman he has seen.” Our state leaders have enabled additional state investments ($22M per year when most states were cutting services), which leveraged $50M federal resources for early learning when the state was awarded a Race to the Top – Early Learning Challenge (ELC) grant.
Six years ago, when the Vision 2015 plan was released, a coalition of stakeholders recommended improving (1) state support for high quality early learning programs; (2) professional development for staff; and (3) alignment among data systems, early learning and K-12 programs, and state agencies. Delaware has so much to celebrate: all of these major recommendations have been implemented to some degree and several have been far surpassed or enhanced in a relatively short time.
The panelists in the conference plenary panel were Harriet Dichter; Rena Hallam, Director of Delaware Stars and Associate Professor at the University of Delaware; Cheryl Clendaniel, Early Childhood Administrator at The Learning Center and member of the Provider’s Committee of the Delaware Early Childhood Council; and Superintendent Dan Curry of the Lake Forest School District. Each of the panelists are devoted to implementing the Early Learning Challenge and discussed a number of exciting initiatives are underway. Cheryl Clendaniel called the ELC plan the state’s “map” for success and noted her optimism about our progress, which includes:
- Greater levels of participation (338 programs participating today, from 178 only a year ago) and increased quality among Stars programs.
- Enhanced collaboration between early care providers and the K-12 system, which will be strengthened when Delaware Early Learning Teams are be launched in 2013 by community partners to help create linkages between early learning and K-12.
- Launch of the Early Learning Survey, which will provide a standard measurement for kindergarten readiness to equip kindergarten teachers with data on the overall knowledge and skills their students possess and inform the early childhood community on its strengths and deficits in preparing students for kindergarten. Superintendent Curry spoke to the leadership of kindergarten teachers in his district in implementing these efforts. He also spoke about the promise of the data for teacher collaboration, improved planning and instruction, and ongoing monitoring.
Stakeholders throughout the state including parents, early learning providers, health care providers, policymakers, nonprofit and community organizations, and the K-12 system are aligned and implementing strategies that will ensure our children enter kindergarten equipped to learn. Make no mistake, we have a long way to go: as Dichter noted, only 20% of early learning teachers have bachelor’s degrees, and most children are not in high-quality rated programs. We must stay the course to ensure we secure our position as national leaders in serving our youngest learners.